SEWA joins HIV/AIDS fight

Kaieteur News Article, 24 April 2006

SEWA joins HIV/AIDS fight

• hopes to sensitize Hindu communities

Through funding from the United States Ambassador's Fund 2005 HIV/AIDS Project, the Society for Empowerment and Holistic Advancement (SEWA), two Hindu communities will be sensitized to the facts about HIV/AIDS.

Formally registered in 2003 the SEWA organisation was created by young Hindu professionals and businessmen who saw the need to promote education, literacy, information technology, nutrition, and health with a special focus on HIV/AIDS. According to SEWA Secretary, Omar Bissoon, an engineer by profession, the group had observed that there was not much HIV/AIDS awareness in Hindu communities and therefore applied to the US Ambassador's Fund to garner support to facilitate awareness programmes.

He said this assistance was forthcoming and the workshop was streamlined and will be conducted in Cornelia Ida and Cummings Lodge. It will also address the issue of domestic violence.

The first workshop was held on Saturday last at the Saraswatie Vidya Niketan Secondary School in Cornelia Ida. It targeted students of the school and was led by Pro Chancellor of the University of Guyana, Dr. Prem Misir.

Through discussions and interactive sessions Dr. Misir was able to unveil the facts of the disease to the young students as well as to gain an understanding of their beliefs of HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Misir said that the workshop is a spin off from a UNDP project and was intended to gain a sense of how people generally feel about HIV/AIDS. Mr. Dereck Springer of the Centre for Diseases Control, who spoke on behalf of the US Ambassador to Guyana, commended the members of SEWA for attempting to embark on such a noble endeavour. He said that he was quite happy to be associated with such an initiative and commented on the appropriateness of sensitizing youths in particular.

He revealed that the application by SEWA to undertake the initiative was met with much admiration since it clearly outlined the problem and how it would be tackled, and as such funding of US$15,455 was granted.

Springer noted though that there are four particular aspects that must be achieved after the initiative would have come to an end.

These included an increase in the number of Hindus understanding their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS; an increase in the number of Hindus accessing counselling to know their status; Hindu women should gain a better understanding of how abusive relationships could cause them to be vulnerable; and there should be an overall greater awareness of the disease in Hindu communities.

Pujya Swami Aksharananda, a member of SEWA, said that for many years East Indian communities have lived in denial of the fact that they too could be affected by the dreaded epidemic HIV/AIDS, and as a result had turned their backs on opportunities to be educated. He however noted that SEWA would be taking a different approach in that it will only be promoting abstinence.

The Swami said from a religious perspective he does not see the sense in promoting contraceptives, adding that it is like sending someone to steal and warning them not to get caught.

• He said that he embraces the initiative since he is quite confident that it will bring about a needed change in Hindu communities. Six other workshops will be held in the two targeted communities over the next six weeks.